HC Deb 10 April 1975 vol 889 cc1383-5
1. Mr. Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the transfer of the Price sisters to Northern Ireland.

13. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what considerations he decided on the transfer of the Misses Price to Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply I gave to a Question by the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) on 25th March.—[Vol. 889, c. 118.]

Mr. Lawson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but does he not think, first, that it might have been better had he made a statement at the time that the transfer of the Price sisters was made? Second, might he not now feel, in the light of the renewed outbreak of violence in the Province, regrettable though it is, that the transfer was perhaps, to say the least, premature?

Mr. Jenkins

No, I do not think so on either point. Both are matters for consideration. We announced the transfer as soon as it had taken place. One would never announce a transfer before it had taken place or while it was taking place. I made it clear to the House last June that I intended to transfer these two sisters before the end of 1974, subject to there being no great outbreak of violence or deterioration in the security position. Clearly those conditions did not prevail towards the end of 1974. I believed, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that they had come to prevail and I judged—it is bound to be a difficult matter of judgment—that the time was right for the transfer.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While it is desirable that long-term prisoners should be as near as possible to their relatives, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the safety at Armagh women's prison is satisfactory? Is he aware that there is some outcry in Republican, no less than in Loyalist, circles that these prisoners have been treated more favourably than others? What will his attitude be to other prisoners from Northern Ireland serving sentences in Great Britain?

Mr. Jenkins

I have to consider all cases on their individual merits. As the House knows, I made three further transfers in the course of this week. I have no further transfers in prospect at the moment. Cases have to be considered in relation to security and compassionate considerations in combination, but I always made it clear that I was not prepared to consider the Price sisters in total isolation from other prisoners. I also made it clear, however, before the crisis, as it were, of last May and June, that I believed that at some stage they should serve the bulk of their sentences near their home.

Mr. Stallard

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us who have followed this matter closely since it began last year would agree with his judgment while deploring the recent outbreaks of violence? Will he accept that those of us who are deeply seeking a peaceful political solution to the problems in Northern Ireland look on this transfer as a constructive contribution to the creation of an atmosphere in Northern Ireland which will allow political judgments to prevail?

Mr. Jenkins

I note what my hon. Friend says and I am grateful to him. I do not see it so much in a political context myself. I thought that it was the right decision to foreshadow last May and June and I thought that it was right to carry it out when I did.

Mr. McCusker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with the so-called cease-fire currently breaking down, the release of these terrorists may become a priority for the Provisionals? What measures did he take to satisfy himself that Armagh prison was sufficiently secure to prevent that from happening?

Mr. Jenkins

Security in Armagh and other gaols in Northern Ireland is now a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and not for me, but I certainly would not have proceeded without close consultation with him. Although eight or nine years ago I lived through too many prison escapes in this country ever to be prepared to make an absolute statement about anything, I believe that Armagh gaol, while like other gaols it has had its troubles, has not been notable for escapes.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little more about the future? Since there is more violence now in Northern Ireland, would it not be good for him to say that there will certainly be no further transfers until there is full resumption of peaceful conditions in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Jenkins

With respect, I think that it is a mistake to lay down these absolute conditions. What I said earlier is that I have no further transfers in mind at the present time.